Los Angeles Partner Jessica Beckwith, along with San Diego and San Francisco Partner Brian Slome, recently published an article in the Daily Journal titled "Ethics Opinions Offer Advice; Some Practical, Some Challenging," which discusses two advisory opinions that the California State Bar's Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) intends to issue. In the article, the authors describe and analyze Proposed Opinions 14-001 and 17-0003, which address the topics of colleague impairment and client intake, respectively.
First, Ms. Beckwith and Mr. Slome explain that Opinion 14-0001 sets forth the ethical obligation that supervisory and subordinate lawyers must monitor their colleagues for signs of mental and/or physical impairment. Significantly, the opinion requires subordinate lawyers to determine whether superiors are competent and able to handle the stress associated with practicing law, and to take affirmative remedial action where necessary. According to the authors, "COPRAC's opinion is daunting in scope and creates the type of obligation few associates are equipped to handle," adding that the opinion "lacks compassionate advice and fails to consider the realities of associate life in many law firms." The authors also point out that identifying signs of impairment in a colleague is now more challenging as many lawyers are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and not interacting with colleagues in person.
In contrast, the authors explain that Opinion 17-0003 "is straightforward and offers practical advice." This opinion reminds lawyers that they owe a prospective client the same ethical duty of confidentiality that they owe to an existing or former client. The opinion also provides best practices for interviewing potential clients without compromising duties to existing clients. Ms. Beckwith and Mr. Slome point out that the opinion "is most notable for its discussion about ethical concerns lawyers face when learning that a potential client intends to sue a present client of the lawyer's firm."
Ms. Beckwith serves as a Lewis Brisbois' Firmwide Assistant General Counsel in the Los Angeles and Phoenix offices and as vice chair of its Public Agency & Municipal Law Practice. She is a former State Bar of California Trial Counsel and now regularly advises attorneys and law firms on matters relating to bar charges and complaints in Arizona and California as well as other licensing, ethics, and professional responsibility issues.
Mr. Slome is a member of Lewis Brisbois' Professional Liability Practice. He focuses on the defense of attorneys in disciplinary proceedings as well as the representation of other professionals, including insurance agents and brokers, architects, engineers, real estate agents, and inspectors.
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